Automorbit, Cars – In mid-2019, Chevrolet dusted off the Trailblazer nameplate for the U.S. market — but as neither the truck-based, mid-size Trailblazer that Chevy sold here more than a decade ago nor the separate Trailblazer still sold in overseas markets like Brazil and Vietnam. No, this is an all-new compact crossover that shares roots with the Buick Encore GX, a corporate sibling from another brand in the GM stable.
Unlike the new-for-2020 Buick, the Trailblazer would bow as a 2021 model. Chevrolet planned dealership arrivals for the spring of 2020, and despite the wrecking ball of COVID-19, the Trailblazer is in showrooms as you read this, with some 2,500 examples on dealer lots as of Aug. 24. It also gives the Bow-Tie brand its seventh SUV for the U.S. market, or nearly twice as many as the number that populated Chevy showrooms in 2010.
You can’t blame GM. The price of regular fuel crested $3.80 a gallon nationwide six separate times between 2008 and 2012, per government data. As of this writing, it hasn’t even cracked $2.80 in more than a year. Predictably, SUV sales have taken off: Cut out pickup trucks and vans, and shoppers bought roughly twice as many SUVs as cars in the first half of 2020, by our analysis of Automotive News new-vehicle sales data.
While the Trailblazer’s return makes sense, its place in GM’s lineup may still be confusing to consumers. Where does it fit, and what the heck does it compete with? Not to worry: We’ll break it down.
Sized Between Trax and Equinox
The Trailblazer slots between the Trax and Equinox, respectively Chevrolet’s subcompact and compact SUVs. Most brands have two SUVs, not three, to cover that ground: Honda has the HR-V and CR-V, for example, while Ford has the EcoSport and Escape. It remains to be seen if Trailblazer sales come at the expense of its siblings — “cannibalization,” as the industry calls it.
It’s worth noting that although the Trax is dimensionally comparable with other subcompact SUVs, the Equinox is a touch big for the larger compact class. As such, there’s plenty of daylight between the two: Height is similar, but the two SUVs are well over a foot apart in length, not to mention 6.7 inches in wheelbase and nearly 3 inches in width. The Trailblazer fills that gap: Length is a bit closer to the Trax than the Equinox, but wheelbase and width roughly split the difference.
That gives Chevrolet a subcompact SUV in the Trax, a compact SUV on the larger side of its group in the Equinox and something in between in the Trailblazer. It isn’t the only brand to take a three-pronged approach, though: Jeep has the subcompact Renegade and large-for-a-compact Cherokee, with the Compass in between.
Stacking Up the Driving Experiences
We recently evaluated an all-wheel-drive Trailblazer LT, and its turbocharged 1.3-liter three-cylinder engine (155 horsepower, 174 pounds-feet of torque) proved unexpectedly eager around town with just the driver aboard. It’s similar in that regard to the Trax’s turbo 1.4-liter four-cylinder, which also feels more potent than its displacement suggests, with better EPA-estimated gas mileage to boot: a 28-31 mpg combined rating, depending on the variant, versus the Trax’s 26-28 mpg.
Playing against the Trailblazer’s off-the-line potency is its nine-speed automatic transmission, which delays downshifts too long in highway passing situations. Still, many Trailblazer shoppers will drive something entirely different: a continuously variable automatic transmission, available with the optional 1.3-liter or the SUV’s base engine, a 1.2-liter turbo three-cylinder (137 hp, 162 pounds-feet of torque). We haven’t tested that drivetrain, but it’s worth comparing.
As powertrains go, the 1.3-liter Trailblazer’s experience aligns with that of the Equinox’s base engine, a turbo 1.5-liter four-cylinder, which we’ve found quick enough but also matched to a kickdown-hesitant automatic (a six-speed, in that case). The Equinox offers an optional turbo 2.0-liter four-cylinder that’s far quicker, in part because it pairs with a better transmission, but the point might be moot — the turbo 2.0-liter is done after the 2020 model year; the available turbo 2.0-liter engine set to arrive in the refreshed 2022 Equinox isn’t the same one, displacement notwithstanding.
“It will be a different engine than we’ve previously used,” said Rita KassShamoun, a spokesperson for GM, in an email to Cars.com regarding the turbo 2.0-liter. “We haven’t announced much about it yet.”
The Equinox boasts better ride isolation than either the Trailblazer or Trax, though all three SUVs lean toward the comfort side in terms of shock absorption. Inside, none has particularly large or comfortable seats — an underrated strength of the previous-generation Equinox (2010-17) — or lavish cabin materials relative to their competitors. But the Equinox has a boatload of creature comforts if you climb the trim levels: a memory driver’s seat, power passenger seat, ventilated front seats, heated rear seats, dual-zone climate control and leather seats are all available in the Equinox but not the Trailblazer.
Pricing: Look Closely
It might seem perplexing that the Trailblazer has a lower starting price than the Trax: $19,995 versus $22,395 (all prices include a destination charge). But that’s due to Chevrolet’s needle-in-a-haystack L trim, which accounts for less than 1% of new Trailblazer inventory on Cars.com as of this writing. The Equinox also has a base L trim; it’s similarly scant, at less than 1% of inventory. But the Trax starts at the next-higher LS trim, which accounts for more than 70% of new Trax SUVs on dealer lots. Thus, a more realistic comparison of base prices looks like this:
- 2021 Trax LS: $22,395
- 2021 Trailblazer LS: $22,595
- 2020 Equinox LS: $27,495
Between the Trailblazer and Equinox, there’s a big enough gap to buy a beater car, and it remains that way if you add the bells and whistles. Load up the factory options, and the 2021 Trax tops out near $30,000, while a factory-loaded 2021 Trailblazer approaches $35,000 — and the 2020 Equinox nears $50,000.
Even absent the elusive base trim, the Trailblazer still boasts a strong value proposition. Standard features include automatic emergency braking with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning with steering assist, and a 7-inch touchscreen with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto (both wireless). And for all that, dealers are listing just over 4 in 10 new Trailblazers on Cars.com at or below $25,000, as of this writing.
With more standard features and similar affordability to the Trax, the Trailblazer throws into question the raison d’etre for Chevrolet’s erstwhile entry-level SUV, which dates back to early 2015 for the current generation.
GM doesn’t see it that way. The Trax is “not going anywhere,” KassShamoun said when asked about the future of Chevrolet’s smallest SUV in the U.S. market.
“We find that the Trax and the Trailblazer nicely bookend the rapidly growing segment, when you look at [average transaction prices],” she continued. “While they have similar starting prices, we find that Trailblazer customers are more eager to purchase the up-level trims. Actually, the RS trim has doubled our forecast. We’re finding that there are two different buyers for the Trax and the Trailblazer.”